Backbone

I’ve spent today cleaning and hanging out at home rather than doing anything that requires much effort, physical or intellectual. So I haven’t been following the news much, other than to hear now it turns out that an internal NI memo has turned up which indicates that, oh what a surprise, executives at the company knew phone hacking was more widespread than they let on, and that they’d paid police for stories.

I thought about the cowardice of politicians who for years have refused to stand up to Murdoch, as a group, prefering short term tactical gain over their opponents to uniting in a long-term goal of reducing the power of one company. Blair had three meetings with Murdoch in the ten days before the Iraq war started, but ignored a million people marching in London.

Anyhow I was put in mind of something by the historian Tony Judt, and found the full quote here:

“Courage is always missing in politicians. It is like saying basketball players aren’t normally short. It isn’t a useful attribute. To be morally courageous is to say something different, which reduces your chances of winning an election. Courage is in a funny way more common in an old-fashioned sort of enlightened dictatorship than it is in a democracy. However, there is another factor. My generation has been catastrophic. I was born in 1948 so I am more or less the same age as George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Gerhard Schröder, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – a pretty crappy generation, when you come to think of it, and many names could be added. It is a generation that grew up in the 1960s in Western Europe or in America, in a world of no hard choices, neither economic nor political. There were no wars they had to fight. They did not have to fight in the Vietnam War. They grew up believing that no matter what choice they made, there would be no disastrous consequences. The result is that whatever the differences of appearance, style and personality, these are people for whom making an unpopular choice is very hard.

“Someone once said: ‘But Blair’s choice to go to war in Iraq was unpopular with the majority of the population.’ I agree. But what Blair was doing was going for a different kind of popularity – he wanted to show his strength. To do this he had to do something unpopular, yet something that cost him nothing. Doing something unpopular that may cost you your job is much harder.”

(My italics.)

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